Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Carpe Diem Nation. By David Brooks.

Carpe Diem Nation. By David Brooks. New York Times, February 11, 2013.

Brooks:

Europeans who settled America gave their lives a slingshot shape. They pulled back so they could shoot forward. They volunteered to live in harsh conditions today so their descendants could live well for centuries. The pioneers who traveled West did the same thing. So has each generation of immigrants — sacrificing the present for the sake of the future.

This slingshot manner of life led to one of those true national clich├ęs: that America is the nation of futurity, that Americans organize their lives around romantic visions of what is to be.

In 1775, Sam Adams confidently predicted that the scraggly little colonies would one day be the world’s most powerful nation. In 1800, Noah Webster projected that the U.S. would someday have 300 million citizens, and that a country that big should have its own dictionary.

In his novel, “Giants in the Earth,” Ole Rolvaag has a pioneering farmer give a visitor a tour of his land. The farmer describes his beautiful home and his large buildings. The visitor confesses that he can’t see them. That’s because they haven’t been built yet, the farmer acknowledges, but they already exist as reality in his mind.

This future-oriented mentality had practical effects. For decades, government invested heavily in long-range projects like railroads and canals.

Today, Americans have inverted this way of thinking. Instead of sacrificing the present for the sake of the future, Americans now sacrifice the future for the sake of the present.

. . . . . . . . . .

Why have Americans lost their devotion to the future? Part of the answer must be cultural. The Great Depression and World War II forced Americans to live with 16 straight years of scarcity. In the years after the war, people decided they’d had enough. There was what one historian called a “renunciation of renunciation.” We’ve now had a few generations raised with this consumption mind-set. There’s less of a sense that life is a partnership among the dead, the living and the unborn, with obligations to those to come.

The political debate, though, is largely oblivious to this mental shift. Republicans and Democrats are so busy arguing about the merits of government versus business that they are blind to the problem that afflicts them both.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama is apparently planning to give us yet another salvo in that left-right war, as he did in his second Inaugural Address. One of his aides, in a fit of hubris, told Politico that the president will be offering Republicans a golden bridge to ease their retreat.

But it would be great if Obama gave an imaginative speech that reframed things as present versus future.

If the president were to propose an agenda for the future, he’d double spending on the National Institutes of Health. He’d approve the Keystone XL pipeline. He’d cut corporate tax rates while adding a progressive consumption tax. He’d take money from Social Security and build Harlem Children’s Zone-type projects across the nation. He’d means test Medicare and use the money to revive state universities and pay down debt.

Would Americans buy that agenda? Maybe. Americans are neglecting the future, but I bet they’re still in love with it.

A Godly Man in an Ungodly Age. By Pat Buchanan.

A Godly Man in an Ungodly Age. By Pat Buchanan. Real Clear Politics, February 12, 2013.

Buchanan:

Among Catholics, there has long been a dispute over the issue: Did Vatican II cause the crisis in the Church, or did the council merely fail to arrest what was an inevitable decline with the triumph of the counterculture of the 1960s?

As one looks around the world and back beyond the last half-century, it seems that Catholicism and Christianity have been in a centuries-long retreat. In the mid-19th century, Matthew Arnold wrote in “Dover Beach”:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar . . .

In Christianity’s cradle, the Holy Land and the Near East, from Egypt to Afghanistan, Christians are subjected to persecution and pogroms, as their numbers dwindle. In Latin America, the Church has been losing congregants for decades.

In Europe, Christianity is regarded less as the founding faith of the West and the wellspring of Western culture and civilization, than as an antique; a religion that European Man once embraced before the coming of the Enlightenment. Many cathedrals on the continent have taken on the aspect of Greek and Roman temples – places to visit and marvel at what once was, and no longer is.

The Faith is Europe, Europe is the Faith, wrote Hilaire Belloc. And when the faith dies, the culture dies, the civilization dies, and the people die. So historians and poets alike have written.

Surely that seems true in Europe. In the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, Western Man, under the banners of God and country, conquered almost the entire world. But now that Christianity has died in much of the West, the culture seems decadent, the civilization in decline.

And the people have begun to die. No Western nation has had a birth rate in three decades that will enable its native-born to survive.

Dispensing with Christianity, Western peoples sought new gods and new faiths: communism, Leninism, fascism, Nazism. Those gods all failed.

Now we have converted to even newer faiths to create paradise in this, the only world we shall ever know. Democratic capitalism, consumerism, globalism, environmentalism, egalitarianism.

The Secular City seems to have triumphed over the City of God. But in the Islamic world, an ancient and transcendental faith is undergoing a great awakening after centuries of slumber and seems anxious to re-engage and settle accounts with an agnostic West.

As ever, the outcome of the struggle for the world is in doubt.

As Vatican Leader Pope Benedict Never Had a Chance. By John Moody.

As Vatican leader Pope Benedict never had a chance. By John Moody. FoxNews.com, February 11, 2013.

Farewell to an Uninspiring Pope. By John Patrick Shanley.

Farewell to an Uninspiring Pope. By John Patrick Shanley. New York Times, February 11, 2013.

Young, Liberal, and Open to Big Government. By Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

Young, Liberal, and Open to Big Government. By Sheryl Gay Stolberg. New York Times, February 10, 2013.

The Legacy of the Silk Road. By Valerie Hansen.

The Legacy of the Silk Road. By Valerie Hansen. Yale Global Online, January 25, 2013.

In an era of tolerance, ancient Silk Road routes opened way to rich cultural exchange.

Is the U.S. Ready To Be Number Two. By Kishore Mahbubani.

Is the U.S. Ready To Be Number Two. By Kishore Mahbubani. Real Clear World, February 12, 2013. Also find it at Yale Global Online.

Why Obama Is Really Launching a Drone War on Terrorists. By Aaron Klein.

Why Obama REALLY launching drone war on terrorists. By Aaron Klein. Audio. Klein Online, February 10, 2013.

Klein did research at The Center for Speical Studies, part of The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center in Israel, which has an archive of Muslim Brotherhood documents.

More on Morsi and Egypt here.

Klein [starting at 7:30 in the audio file]:

So Muslim Brotherhood ideology is based on the worldview that Islam as the solution for every individual social and political problem. This is after going through so many documents from the Muslim Brotherhood itself. They institute a comprehensive Muslim world order which they believe will be possible by means of a long term process of multiple stages. Now this is very important, because the Muslim Brotherhood absolutely supports terrorism when it’s targeting, for example, Israel. They see Hamas as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. They have no problem with attacks against any country that they believe is being occupied by a Western power, or by non-Islamic powers. For example Syria they see as being occupied by the secular Alawites in the Assad regime. Jordan they believe is Muslim territory that is being occupied by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. They look at Saudi Arabia which is being occupied of course by the Saudi kingdom that is not exactly Islamist, although they play major games, they’re playing with fire with the Wahhabist mosques that I think are going to blow up in Saudi Arabia’s face, just as it’s going to blow up in the face of the King of Jordan in the very near future.

Now here’s the thing. The Muslim Brotherhood is not Al Qaeda. The Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda have the exact same ultimate goal, which is an Islamic planet. But Al Qaeda sees that they have to achieve this by violent means; whereas the Muslim Brotherhood, believe it or not, is actually quite pragmatic. They even have some real pro-democratic elements and real politically tolerant elements within Islam within the Muslim Brotherhood, although actually their combined weight does not outweigh the more so-called conservative, a.k.a. radical elements, in the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, one thing the vast majority of Muslim Brotherhood leaders agree on is that they do not like, they actually oppose very strongly, Al Qaeda’s global terrorism. In other words they have no problem with Al Qaeda fighting the so-called occupation of Iraq – well actually Iraq was occupied – Afghanistan, elsewhere, what they claim is occupied including in Israel. However, when it comes to Europe, when it comes to the West, they absolutely oppose attacks against Americans. Look at Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the rock star of the Muslim Brotherhood. He said very clearly that one day Islam will take over America, will take over Europe, not overnight, but gradually through immigration and through proselytizing. And guess what, it’s happening right now. Have you been to London lately? Have you heard the reports lately of the number one baby boy’s name being born in London is Mohamed? Have you gone to Spain lately? Did you see the riots in France? The Muslim Brotherhood dream/vision of gradual takeover is absolutely clearly coming to fruition throughout the West, maybe not yet in America. . . .

And so maybe now we can make better sense of this drone warfare. Actually the Muslim Brotherhood supports it. . . . I have absolutely no doubt that it’s actually the Muslim Brotherhood that is feeding the information to the CIA on where the different Al Qaeda leaders are. The Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t like the Al Qaeda leaders that attack America, that attack the West.

Understanding Mohamed Morsi. By Joshua Hammer.

The Riddler: Understanding Mohamed Morsi. By Joshua Hammer. The New Republic, December 20, 2012. Also find it here.

More posts on Morsi and Egypt here.

Hammer:

I had traveled to Al Adwa hoping that Morsi’s hometown might shed some light on a man who has only become more enigmatic during his brief time in the spotlight. Since he became Egypt’s first democratically elected leader last June, Morsi has displayed both extraordinary political acumen and a tone-deafness that has plunged his country into deeper unrest. In November, he deftly helped negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, averting a bloody ground war in the Gaza Strip. Days later, he lost much of the goodwill he had earned by issuing an edict that awarded his office near-dictatorial powers.

Sometimes, Morsi can seem like the inspiring guardian of Egyptian democracy—such as when he courageously dismissed the military junta that had claimed the right to rule post–Hosni Mubarak Egypt. At other times, he can seem like a mouthpiece for the deeply conservative Muslim Brotherhood—declaring women unfit for high office and advocating for an international law to ban religious insults. (And sometimes he simply seems awkward, such as when he sat down for a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gilliard in September at the United Nations and proceeded, for several excruciating seconds, to publicly adjust his genitals.) So far, the only certainty about Morsi is that his ultimate intentions remain unknown.

Among Morsi’s many critics, the suspicion remains strong that he is an Islamist at heart—and that this identity, shaped in the small conservative town where I was standing, will ultimately define his presidency. On the second floor of his three-story red brick childhood home, he still keeps a small study. His cousin, a skinny man in his early twenties, showed me the room, with its bare cement floor and battered sofa. He pointed at a scuffed wooden table: “Whenever he comes home, he works at this desk.” Books and pamphlets that Morsi had left behind were stacked haphazardly: a treatise by Hassan Al Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood; a biography of a disciple of the Prophet Mohammed; a manifesto that had been distributed by the Freedom and Justice Party, which the Muslim Brotherhood founded immediately after the revolution that deposed Mubarak. On top of the pile rested a slim volume: Teach Yourself French in Five Days.

I noticed a poster hanging on an otherwise bare wall. It showed the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem above the slogan, in Arabic, “WE WILL RETURN, OH AQSA.” I asked his cousin how I should interpret these words. “A war will happen again between the Arabs and the Jews,” he told me matter-of-factly, “and we will regain Jerusalem.”

. . . . . . . . . .

A hundred miles and a world away from Nour’s penthouse apartment, however, those who have known Morsi the longest say they have little doubt where his true values lie. Sitting beside his fields on the outskirts of Al Adwa, Said Morsi told me that his older brother remains rooted to the uncompromising Islamic beliefs that stamped his childhood and that have guided him throughout his life. “All of the vacations before becoming the president, he would come back here and work the fields, and sit with me, and talk,” he said, smoking a cigarette as the wail of the muezzin began to sound from a few hundred yards away. “In his heart, he belongs to the village.”

Oh, No! Not Another Apologia from a Journalist Who Won't Vote! Oh, Yes—But This Time, Blame Russia. By Julia Ioffe

Oh, No! Not Another Apologia from a Journalist Who Won't Vote! Oh, Yes—But This Time, Blame Russia. By Julia Ioffe. The New Republic, November 6, 2012.

Ezra Klein Cannot Be Stopped. By Julia Ioffe.

Ezra Klein: The Wise Boy: A tale of striving and success in modern-day Washington. By Julia Ioffe. The New Republic, February 12, 2013. Also find it here.

America in Strategic Retreat from the Middle East. By Riad Kahwaji and Theodore Karasik.

America in Strategic Retreat from the Middle East. By Riad Kahwaji and Theodore Karasik. Real Clear World, February 7, 2013.